Around 300 search dogs spent long exhausting hours searching for survivors with their strong noses for several weeks following the 11th of September 2001 terror attack. Piles of smoldering twisted steel beams lay across ash and concrete, where a short time before the World Trade Center had stood.
Finally, on a June afternoon 2016, Bretagne, the last remaining of the 9/11 search dogs, left us at the age of 16. Her best friend and handler, Denise Corliss, was at her side. Incidentally, Bretagne should be pronounced “Brittany.”
A highly trained golden retriever who had a happy smile and soft fur, Bretagne lived an adventurous life right up until the last several weeks that saw her begin to suffer from kidney failure. She was obviously slowing down. Finally, Bretagne stopped eating for three days, and that’s when Denise Corliss, her owner understood that the time had arrived to say good bye.
“She was really anxious last night and she just wanted to be with me,” Corliss told TODAY on Monday. “So I laid down with her, right next to her. When she could feel me, she could settle down and go to sleep. I slept with her like that all night.”
In Cypress, Texas outside the Fairfield Animal Hospital, Denise with Randy Corliss, her husban, saw Bretagne receive a special honor guard from admirers who expressed their gratitude for her service over the years. By the way, besides her heroic work In New York at Ground Zero, as a search team, Bretagne and Corliss also deployed to Hurricane Katrina, as well as Hurricane Ivan, Hurricane Rita, and other disaster areas.
Representatives from Texas Task Force 1, the Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department and other agencies stood at attention and saluted Bretagne as she entered the veterinary office on Monday afternoon. They saluted Bretagne again as she departed the animal hospital with her body draped in an American flag.
Officers Honor the Last 9/11 Search Dog with a Moving Tribute Before Being Put Down
“(Bretagne’s) partnership with Denise Corliss was magical,” said Dr. Cindy Otto, a veterinarian with the Penn Vet Working Dog Center who has spent years tracking the health of 9/11 dogs. “The two of them touched lives throughout their careers together, not only in search and rescue but even after her retirement.”
After Bretagne turned 9 she no longer participated in active search work, but she kept her work ethic and continued to love adventure. Her years in retirement became as meaningful as her youth, largely due to the fact that Denise Corliss arranged customized mental and physical stimulation as she got older.
At 13, Bretagne started to experience a great deal of joint pain and stiffness, to the point where the stairs at home were too difficult to climb. A pool was installed in the yard so that Corliss could help Bretagne swim for a minimum 10 minutes each day.
“It made a huge difference,” Corliss recalled. “She started doing the stairs again. Then we started focusing on ways to keep her mentally active. … Helping kids with their reading in school (was) great for that.”
Up until shortly before her death, Bretagne was a volunteer at a nearby elementary school where she was a reading assistance dog. She continued to swim regularly and enjoyed chasing ducks and squirrels during her walk each day near a pond.
Around her 15th birthday, Bretagne found herself in the national news on her return to Ground Zero together with Denise Corliss. They had not been back there since the 2001 terrorist attacks.
NBC News’ Tom Brokaw interviewed Corliss at the 9/11 Memorial and also spent time with Bretagne, who was a 2014 finalist for the American Humane Association’s annual Hero Dog Awards.
There was even more media commotion when Bretagne turned 16. In August 2015, to honor her birthday, BarkPost organized an amazing “Sweet 16” event in New York City, included a cobblestone being dedicated in her honor at the 9/11 Memorial plaza, as well as an illuminated billboard in Times Square.
Ultimate “Sweet 16”
“She just keeps on going and enjoying life,” Corliss told TODAY in March of this year. “She’s just such a happy dog.”
We had hoped to see Bretagne turn 17 on August 25, 2016. That was not to be, but she certainly lived a full life.
via Today.com | images: Denise Corliss